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Siemens chief foresees the arrival of the `virtual factory`

01 May, 2003

"The factory of the future will be a digital factory, designed and simulated by computer," predicts Prof. Dr. Ing. Klaus Wucherer, the Siemens board member responsible for its automation and drives business. He made the prediction in a speech at last month`s Hannover Fair, looking at the way that automation engineering is likely to develop in the coming years.

"The automotive industry is paving the way," he said. "In the future, it plans to release a new model only after having seen a digital vehicle pass successfully through the digital factory and having exhausted all product design and production optimising processes. In 2010, developers and factory planners will be expected to take their seats in front of the screen together and watch the virtual vehicle emerge from the virtual factory."

Dr Wucherer (above) said the future of automation lies in the "flexibilisation of production" and that "batch size one, at a low price" will be the yardstick for Siemens` future investments. He detected important trends emerging in the areas such as software engineering, microsystems, Internet technologies, polymer electronics and "distributed intelligence".

Mechatronics, Wucherer continued, will allow new machine designs to be developed at much lower costs, while enhancing performance and efficiency. In packaging machines, for example, "virtual axes" will ensure that all motions are verified and recalculated or adjusted as necessary, creating self-correcting and self-optimising systems.

Wucherer felt that Siemens was back on track as an innovation leader, a course it had lost during the early 1990s. He pointed to the new Sinamics drive platform introduced at the Fair, and to the nearly 10 million installed Profibus nodes, as examples of "finding our way back to the world`s best" in innovation.

"There is no contradiction between investing in R&D and making good money," he said "On the contrary, the two conditions are mutually dependent."

Dr Wucherer argued that Siemens has secured its position as world leader in automation, both in terms of business volume and of technology, because of its innovations. He said the Automation and Drives Group is still achieving good EBIT margins even during difficult times, and he expects the group "to get again a little closer to a target margin of 11—13% this year."

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